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Dealing With a 'Modern Family'

With Fox Television Stations’ purchase of Modern Family, Twentieth Television’s Emmy-winning sitcom is already on track to become one of syndication’s biggest grossers of all time.

The sitcom suddenly found itself on the broadcast market on Thursday, Oct. 15, when Tribune made a preemptive bid for the show that neared $600,000 per week, sources say. Twentieth immediately took the ABC hit to the marketplace, and its own sister station group responded.

The Fox stations increased the price, brushing against the $600,000 ceiling, and also agreed to a lengthy 11-year term for the show. Tribune wasn’t willing to agree to that lengthy a term, and bowed out.

That left Fox the winner of the two biggest sitcoms available for the foreseeable future: Modern Family and Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory, which Fox purchased for $500,000-plus per week in May, according to sources.

By the time Twentieth completes all of its broadcast deals for Modern Family, the show is expected to bring in about $850,000 per week, putting it on par with The Big Bang Theory and Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men. Last spring, Twentieth also secured a $1.4 million-plus per-episode deal for Modern Family with NBC Universal’s USA Network, which also occurred because NBCU made preemptive offers for—and won—both Modern Family and Fox’s hit musical Glee.

In addition, Twentieth secured 2 minutes of barter advertising time in each episode of Modern Family, with stations keeping 5½ minutes.

Patience No Longer a Virtue

While both Big Bang and Modern Family are bringing in big bucks, the quick sale of Family represents a new era in TV syndication deal-making: if a buyer is interested in a show, they had better make their deal quickly.

“It speaks to how strong last year’s TV season was, and also to how buyers realize that they have to step up and get the best shows,” says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “The only reason you would wait is because you want to make sure that there will be a strippable number of episodes. If you have a show that is strong as Modern Family or Glee, you can safely buy it and know that you will have enough episodes.”

It also means that for the biggest shows, syndicators may no longer have time to methodically plot their strategies, as Warner Bros. did with Two and a Half Men and Big Bang. Other shows that opened big in 2009 and had obvious homes on cable—CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles and Fox’s The Cleveland Show—were sold long before the start of the traditional syndication sales cycle.

Says one syndicator: “It really shows how the scarcity of high-quality programming is driving the market.”

Speaking of scarcity, this primetime TV season has not produced anything nearing the buzz of Glee or ModernFamily, but Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly is meeting relatively high expectations, and CBS’ $@#! My Dad Says is holding its own so far. Both shows have been picked up for the full season and could have decent shots at getting into syndication.

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